Court Small Sword
- Dated: circa 1757
- Artist/Maker: unknown
- Culture: English
- Place of origin: England
- Medium and Techniques: silver gilt set with diamonds rubies and emeralds
- Measurements: small sword height: 9.8 cm; width: 10 cm; depth: 7.9 cm. Sheath height: 82 cm; width: 2.7 cm; depth: 2 cm
From around 1640, light swords with short, flexible, pointed blades appeared in response to new fencing techniques that emphasised thrusting at speed. They were worn increasingly with civilian clothes as ‘small swords’, offering a means of self-defence but largely denoting status for the well-dressed gentleman.
Small swords were items of male jewellery. By the 1750s, their elaborate gold and silver hilts, mounted with precious stones and fine enamelling, were the products of the goldsmith and jeweller rather than the swordsmith. They made fitting rewards for distinguished military and naval service. With their blades tucked away inside scabbards, it was their ostentatious and expensive hilts that carried their thrust.
By tradition this sword belonged to Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham (1726-1813), whose long career included service in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and acting as First Lord of the Admiralty during the Trafalgar Campaign (1805). In 1757 the Assembly of Barbados awarded Middleton ‘100 pistoles … to buy him a sword for taking a French privateer infesting the coast of the island.’
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